Deep concern expressed as UKOM suspends STA funding again
Ljubljana, 25 February - The Government Communication Office's (UKOM) rejection to pay a bill for the STA's public service has prompted strong reactions from STA employees and from several journalist organisations at home and abroad as well as some MPs. The move is seen as another attempt at destabilising the press agency after its funding was first suspended in late 2020.
UKOM said yesterday it could not pay the bill for the public service provided by the STA in January because the two parties had not yet signed a contract for 2021.
The STA's internal bodies representing staff said in today's written statement that UKOM's decision was a follow-up to last year's attempt to dismantle and destroy the agency while putting STA staff in an uncertain position regarding their social situation.
"At a time when politics and civil society point to the need to overcome the divide in Slovenian society, to normalise the situation and set up a culture of dialogue and cooperation to facilitate Slovenia's further development, STA staff is faced with another moment of truth."
The statement says the entire society should be worried when UKOM continues to openly violate the seventh economic stimulus law, which sets down STA funding for 2021 from the state budget regardless of whether the contract has been signed with UKOM.
But despite the contract not being signed, government representatives continue to "shamelessly use our news service for free, sharing tweets of our news which they like and smearing our reputation with unwarranted comments on the tweets based on STA news which are not to their liking".
What is more, a group of individuals "for which it is immediately clear to which party they belong" has announced its plan to establish a kind of a national press agency arguing it would be more Slovenian and more objective than the STA.
The STA staff points out that the STA emerged 30 years ago together with independent Slovenia and has since been one of the most objective Slovenian media outlets.
The representatives of STA staff reject the unwarranted smearing of STA work which they say has but one goal - to make the STA report to the current government's liking.
The staff does not accept the dictate of how and what it should report on: "We will continue to objectively report on everything that is in the interest of the domestic and foreign public."
The staff turns to coalition representatives asking them whether they will allow the Slovenian media to be further dismantled or ensure that STA funding is not stopped.
The same question was posed to President Borut Pahor and Speaker Igor Zorčič, which STA staff believes should be "the first guardians of a young yet obviously still not stable enough democracy".
In a response, Pahor mentioned STA funding as one of the matters that should be resolved "as soon as possible and without any major polemic" as she spoke to the press in Novo Mesto about his yesterday's meeting with party leaders dedicated to the political situation and priorities. He said the STA had a special mission and must be financed.
STA staff also responded to allegations in some party "media outlets" about the majority of STA staff rebelling, labelling them an attempt at sowing discord.
Condemnations of UKOM's move and calls for the government to restore STA financing also came from the Slovenian Trade Union of Journalists, the Slovenian Association of Journalists (DNS), the European Association of News Agencies (EANA) and from the International Press Institute (IPI).
Both the union and the association pointed to the government's obligation to fund the STA in 2021 as stipulated in the seventh economic stimulus package.
The trade union accused UKOM of pretending ignorance, saying the pressure on the STA's independence was a threat to the agency's public service.
Similarly, the DNS said UKOM's move was another step by UKOM director Uroš Urbanija to destabilise the STA.
EANA also disagrees with the current moves by the Slovenian government against the STA, one of its members, urging the government to stop with anti-STA actions.
It offered the government the services of its board to share best practice or potential solutions to resolve the difficult situation in which the STA has found itself.
The IPI meanwhile highlighted the fact that UKOM had stopped STA funding for the second time in three months.
"IPI is concerned this latest contract dispute is another move by the Janša administration to pressure the press agency," it tweeted.
MPs from the coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC), and the opposition Left, Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB), and Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) also stressed the importance of independent media, calling for the preservation of the STA.
The head of the SMC deputy group, Janja Sluga, said that by refusing to pay for the public service of the STA in January, the UKOM was being very unprofessional and rude to all those using the STA services. "Clearly this is a kind of battle for power, which needs to be cut off somehow," she said.
Sluga pointed to the important role the STA had played during independence efforts as a source of objective reporting to offset the undermining of these efforts by the Yugoslavian news agency Tanjug.
She also pointed to the STA act and the SMC-sponsored amendment to the seventh stimulus package securing financing to the STA.
Moreover, she noted that the state had not signed a contract with the STA on its market activities, which would "have additional consequences for the budget", as ministries would have to make contracts with the STA individually if they were to use its services, which would be costlier.
Left leader Luka Mesec was critical of the planned founding of a National Press Agency by those close to the ruling Democrats (SDS). Thus, the SDS has once again showed it does not want to have an independent press agency, he said, adding that the opposition was working on a solution to this problem.